It's officially December and you know what that means! That familiar jingle is ringing in the air and friends and family are preparing for epic parties, feasts, and traditions, so happy holidays all you sexy robots! This month on Band of Bloggers, we’re focusing on the theme of gifted games that made lasting memories.
Video games have always made for great gifts, because they are fun by nature and can provide hours of entertainment on demand, unlike that little bust of Bob Ross you got last year that grows a shrub afro if you water if for several weeks. Video games have also really diversified in recent years with the rise of so many indie developers, which means there’s something for anyone these days. One of the best kinds of gifts that can be given in my opinion, is one which can enhance a relationship. I particularly like cooperative and competitive games for this reason, because they bring friends together to play and socialize. I’ve gifted several multiplayer games over the years, just so that all of my friends could log on at the end of the day and play together. When Halo: Reach released, I bought several extra copies for my ramen-budget college friends, but it was worth every penny for all the fun times we had. Gifted games don’t have to include multiplayer though to be appreciated. I came to enjoy new games and genres like Dark Souls, Dragon Age, and Mirror’s Edge, which held no appeal to me when they released, but when I had a copy of them sitting in front of me, I finally gave them a try and loved them. I never would have experienced these games on my own, and I have a good few friends to thank for it.
Games were traditionally given as physical copies, which made for a great unwrapping spectacle, but physical copy sales are diminishing year over year as accessibility to high bandwidth connections continues to increase. Still, most of us remember getting our games from actual stores, because the concept of digital-version games is still quite new, but I’ve come to appreciate it a lot more in recent years. It allows friends to easily surprise one another and streamers/content creators can receive them from fans or do giveaways all without having to deal with home addresses. It’s fast and it’s safe. It may not be as fun as tearing the wrapping paper off of a present, but gifting a game has never been easier.
In fact it’s so easy that even some studios, publishers, and online distributors have given away select games in recent years, because it only costs them bandwidth to do so. This is not to say free-to-play games, but 100% free to own full-length games. Businesses in the gaming industry take a lot of flak for greedy monetization practices, but there are some genuinely great things they do from time to time. Love them or hate them, the Epic Games Store has allowed me to enjoy quite a few wonderful games over the last year like Metro: Last Light, Alan Wake, The Witness, Subnautica, and For Honor. That’s a solid line-up of free content, and they’ve definitely won me over for it. Both Microsoft and Sony have given away free games too for years now, however the “free” games are only available to those with a premium live subscription so whether or not they are truly free could be debated. Even Ubisoft gave away a digital version of Assassin’s Creed Unity after the Notre Dame burned down this year. I enjoyed my romp around virtual Paris, because even though Unity was a lackluster game, seeing all of the landmarks reminded me of my trip to Paris and delivered a healthy dose of nostalgia. It’s just nice to get games for free, and when companies go through the trouble to offer them, I always appreciate it. Bootlicking aside, let’s get down to some warm and fuzzy memories that stemmed from gifted games.
Super Smash Bros.
As a young lad, I received a Nintendo 64 for Christmas one year from my parents along with several of the most popular games at the time. I have my older cousin to thank for that, because my parents had no idea what to get so they asked him and he hooked it up. Needless to say, I have a lot of fond memories from that era, because Nintendo was putting out hits left and right, but Super Smash Brothers stands out among the rest.
What made Super Smash Bros memorable for me, was the multiplayer. In fact, it was the first versus-multiplayer I ever really invested in, because consoles hadn’t made the move to online multiplayer yet. There simply weren’t that many good multiplayer games back then either and split-screen was another limitation of multiplayer, because most people didn’t have “big-screen” tv’s yet. Super Smash Bros. was different though, because it was a shared, single screen experience, which meant players could actually see what they were doing, and there wasn’t any nefarious “screen-peeking” either.
When my friends and I wanted to battle each other on a video game, Super Smash Brothers was always near the top of the list. The characters were iconic, the gameplay mechanics were smooth and well balanced (for that day and age), the multiplayer didn’t demand a large screen, and the gameplay provided for a large skill gap. The Super Smash Brothers series has been creating memories for over twenty years now, and it doesn’t look to be going away anytime soon. I’m glad I was there from the beginning.
I grew up playing a lot of games that hinged on melee combat systems, but it wasn’t until Fable 3 and Skyrim that I began to grow discontent with combat systems in games. As a kid, the concept of being able to dominate my enemies in most games made me feel good, but as I grew older I realized I wanted more of a challenge. Games like Call of Duty were certainly hard, but they weren’t exactly fair. In fact, it seemed like there was a large degree of luck needed just to get through those campaigns on veteran, and I wanted something that was more rewarding in regards to skill and strategy. I knew there had to be better options out there.
This was of course around the same time that Dark Souls developed its sensational reputation as the “hardcore rpg that everyone needs to play.” It seemed a little too dark for me at the time though, and I wasn’t sure if that kind of story was for me. I liked tropical islands and modern settings, not dark Gothic games! I also had a long backlog of games I had been threatening to play anyways, so I never gave any serious thought to purchasing it. Christmas rolled around though, and it showed up under the tree. My sister had been clueless what to get me, but the salesman at Gamestop really talked it up. In fact, pretty much everyone I knew that played it was eager to label it a masterpiece, so I relented from my hesitation and popped the disc into my Xbox 360.
Now I won’t hesitate to say I dislike the art style in Dark Souls, but what the game lacks in visuals for me is certainly made up for in gameplay. Only several minutes after the game began, I strolled into a great hall and came face to face with the first boss known as the Asylum Demon, which proceeded to pulverize me in two swings while taking out half of the room at the same time. Just like that, I was already dead. I burst out laughing after the initial wave of shock passed. I’ve gotta hand it to From Software for having the audacity to give us the complete inverse of a tutorial.
Dark Souls throws the player to the wolves in every situation. It’s no surprise to me that they re-released the game as the “Prepare to Die!” edition several years later. All the struggles I endured to beat this game were worth it though, because it was a generally fair game to play and felt so rewarding in the end. The Souls trilogy also stoked my interest in trying games from smaller studios. It led me to discover the Witcher series, which has become one of my favorite games to explore in. Without Dark Souls, I probably would have been miserable playing some unpolished triple-A games for several more years.
As already mentioned, I was the giver of Halo: Reach in my circle of friends. Receiving free games is great, but the personal sense of fulfillment in giving people things they really want and don’t expect is so wholesome. Charity is an act we too often forget about in the busy and expensive times we live in, but every time I come around to help someone, I can’t help but realize that I need to do it more often. Good deeds and friendships are the memories that last forever. I still remember walking into my local Gamestop and forking out nearly $250 for 4 copies of Halo: Reach. The salesman couldn’t help but ask what I planned to do with the extra copies, and gave me two thumbs up after I told him.
I had a bit of fun giving out the games to my friends too. I guess I’m just too much of an asshole to just give them in straight-forward fashion, so I did things like hide the game in their houses to be discovered, bring a copy to their place and intentionally forget it and tell them to keep it over the phone. I even talked a little shit with one friend and told him how much he was missing out, before giving him a copy in good humor.
We all played Reach together for years and had an absolute blast. I have no regrets about the cash spent either, because Halo hasn’t been nearly as fun in years and we all have busy lives, or different hardware these days. It sucks, because we don’t play together anymore, but we do still have the friendships we developed from all that time together. It’s crazy to think that the game will be re-launching on PC and Xbox One in just two days from now though, so who knows maybe more good times can be had again.
Halo: Reach is at the top of my list when it comes to memories associated with gifted games. It was the first time I ever did a group game purchase so that my close friends could all come together and have fun. Hell, my generosity even paid off a couple years later when one of the same friends gifted me the next game on this list...
Remember when EA used to make good games? I think I said something like “I love you for showing me this,” to my friend who gave me this game. I’ve always seen Mirror’s Edge as more of an experience than an actual game. It’s a beautiful combination of art, music, and parkour platforming that make for one of the best ways to relax. I mean this game is absolutely addicting for me, and just writing about it is making me want to put off this blog for a few more hours to go play.
Mirror’s Edge is a single player game, so I can’t relate to it like I can with a good social multiplayer experience, but I was content just getting lost in the city/missions and trying to beat my own personal records over and over. The game does have online features for completing time trials and placing on leaderboards against friends though. Sadly, I became much better than my one friend who gave this to me, so I never got into that aspect of the game.
Mirror’s Edge along with Dark Souls captured my attention in ways that rarely happen, and they both stemmed out of gifts. I’m convinced that gifting a unique and memorable game is one of the best things anyone can do for a fellow gamer, so I say: give some genuine thought to sending someone a game this Christmas and create some wonderful new memories. If you have a story you’d like to tell, consider writing a blog this month before or after the holidays about Gifted Games that surprised you and/or created fond memories. Remember to tag BoB (Band of Bloggers) in the title so we know to check it out! Be safe, and happy holidays.